S.Korea's top Court overturns military conviction for same-sex relationships

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S.Korea's top Court overturns military conviction for same-sex relationships

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's top court overturned a military court conviction of two soldiers sentenced to suspending prison terms for a same-sex relationship on Thursday, a ruling hailed by a rights group as a milestone against a much-criticized law.

The Supreme Court said that the convictions by the military court did not take into account whether the defendants' relations were consensual, and thus excessively restricted their right to sexual self-determination.

The Supreme Court said in its rulings that punishing these incidents could infringe on the right to equality, dignity and value as human and the right to pursue happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Homosexual activity is not illegal for South Korean civilians, but same-sex relationships for men in the military have been subject to criminal punishment.

The ministry of defense said it would review the intent of the Supreme Court ruling. South Korean authorities defended the military code against same-sex relationships as necessary to maintain discipline.

In 2017, the two defendants were indicted for same-sex intercourse in 2016 while off duty and outside their base, which is punishable by up to two years in prison under the Military Criminal Act.

Human rights groups have called for South Korea to decriminalize same-sex relationships for men in the military, warning that laws are used to fuel violence and discrimination against gay soldiers.

The Supreme Court ruling will serve as a milestone in the long debate over this law, the Center for Military Human Rights Korea said in a statement.

The Constitutional Court has been reviewing the military act after the filing of numerous petitions against it, and the center wants the court to complete its review of what it called an outdated and bad law.

South Korea's first known transgender soldier died last year, sparking debate about how members of sexual minorities are treated in a country that requires all able-bodied men to serve at least 18 months.

A year later, a soldier, Byun Hui-su, was found dead at her home after being discharged for gender reassignment surgery.